Charleston est. 1670, pop. 127,999 (2013)
• this stucco double tenement is a larger 3-story version of William Hendrick’s Tenements • retains its early 19th c. shop fronts, central passageway arch & late-18th c. wrought-iron lunette, w/scrollwork & central pendant -Roots & Recall
• for decades after the American Civil War the bldg. housed up to 100 impoverished Gullahs — African-American families of freed slaves • because vegetables were grown in the courtyard & sold from street-facing sills & steps, this bldg. & nearby 83-85 Church St. became known as Cabbage Row, described as "Probably the vilest human habitations in a civilized land." -W.E.B. Du Bois, 1908
• by the 1920s, white neighbors were complaining of unsanitary conditions, knife & gunfights, prostitution & "the most vile, filthy, and offensive language" • this would become the setting for the critically acclaimed 1925 novel Porgy by DuBose Heyward (1885-1940)
• despite the notoriety conferred by a best-selling book, the building continued to deteriorate • in 1928, it was purchased & saved from demolition by Emily (Barker) Briggs (1893-1950) & her husband, landscape architect Loutrel Briggs (1893-1977)
• Mr. Briggs restored the exterior, added old woodwork to interiors for rental apts., renovated the gutted outbuildings as new units & named the bldg. Briggs Apartments -A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston, Stephanie E. Yuhl, 2005
• the restoration was criticized by a "shocked" Sons of Confederate Veterans historian, writer Clement Wood (1888-1950), who complained that — typical of Charleston’s commercialization — the authentic "Catfish Row" bldg. had been transformed into a "high class residence" • Wood proposed that Negroes continue to live there to preserve the traditional atmosphere
• Briggs responded in the local paper: "DuBose Heyward, with an artistry, to which my unskilled pen cannot do justice, has preserved for posterity the picturesque life of ‘Catfish Row,’ and I have attempted to reclaim, with as little external change as possible, the building and restore it to semthing of its original state in revolutionary time." -Charleston News & Courier, 25 Dec, 1933 • Briggs bio -The Cultural Landscape Foundation
• "Porgy" author Heyward lived just a block away from Cabbage Row • he was a descendant of Thomas Heyward, Jr., a wealthy planter & signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence
• the author’s mother, published poet Jane Screven DuBose Heyward (1864-1939), loved Gullah music & stories, which informed much of her work, e.g., "De Happy Lan"
Little Sonny, Little Gal
Trabblin down de road
War is you two gwin
Wid such a funny load?
We two is bound for Happy Land,
Kin tell we war it lies?
We darsn’t leabe de goose behin
Cos Sah, she allus cries.
De Happy Lan is "Long Ago"
To dose who now am old.
So tun aroun, an trabble home
Befo de night gets cold.
"Once the Heywards were among the richest planters of South Carolina… It was good fortune for literature and for young Dubose Heyward that the family joined the ranks of the newly poor after the War Between the States," said the New York Times, which also hailed him as the chronicler of the "strange, various, primitive and passionate world" of the Negro -"Goat Cart Sam a.k.a. Porgy: Dubose Heyward’s Icon of Southern ‘Innocence’", Kendra Hamilton
• in Heyward’s novel, the location of this Cabbage Row building is moved to the waterfront (possibly the location of today’s Rainbow Row) & renamed "Catfish Row"…
"Catfish Row, in which Porgy lived, was not a row at all, but a great brick structure that lifted its three stories about the three sides of the court….. and pierced in its center by a wide entrance way. Over the entrance there still remained a massive grill of Itialian wrought iron, a battered capital of marble surmounted each of the lofty gate-posts." -"Porgy," DuBose, Heyward, 1925
• the story’s protagonist is Goat Cart Sam, based on crippled Charleston street vendor Samuel Smalls • "World Knew him as Porgy — He died a Beggar", Tuscaloosa News, 1989 • "The Man Who Breathed Life Into ‘Porgy and Bess’" -New York Times, 03/2000 Porgy & Bess, The Charleston Connection
• following up on the novel’s success, DuBose & his wife, playwright Dorothy Heyward (1890-1961), wrote the non-musical play "Porgy," which opened on Broadway in 1927 • in 1934 Heyward & composer George Gershwin collaborated on the opera Porgy & Bess, first performed in NYC, 1935, with a cast of classically trained African-American singers • Gershwin’s "Catfish Row Suite" premiered in Philadelphia, 1936 • the 1959 Porgy & Bess movie was directed by Otto Preminger • "Porgy & Bess at 80" -Wilson Quarterly
DuBose Heyward Epitaph, by DuBose Heyward
Here lies a spendthrift who believed
That only those who spend may keep;
Who scattered seeds, yet never grieved
Because a stranger came to reap;
A failure who might well have risen;
Yet, ragged, sang exultantly
That all success is but a prison,
And only those who fail are free;
Who took what little Earth had given,
And watched it blaze, and watched it die;
Who could not see a distant Heaven
Because of dazzling nearer sky;
Who never flinched till Earth had taken
The most of him back home again,
And the last silences were shaken
With songs too lovely for his pen.
HABS SC-447 • Charleston Historic District, National Register # 66000964, 1969 • declared National Historic Landmark District, 1973
Tagged: , Charleston SC , charleston , charleston county , south carolina , sc , usa , united states , south , southeast , north america , architecture , building , residential , apartment , apartment building , tenement , slum , poverty , poor , african-american , black , slave , gullah , civil war , door , archway , passage , book , novel , play , porgy and bess , catfish row , cabbage row , 1780s , 1920s , 18th century